Skirt the rules.

Image via i can read
Image via i can read

I’m attempting to participate in #rhizo14 because Dave Cormier’s work on rhizomatic learning and communities really interests me. I had such a great experience last winter with #etmooc so I’m hoping to be able to keep up with this course, if only to read and view the content shared.

Week 1- Cheating as Learning

This week’s heading makes me uneasy. Cheating = bad. Listening to Dave explain what this week is all about, I get it, I do. But I don’t like it. I guess I don’t have to.

After watching Dave’s intro video, I thought immediately of my last year-ish in the principalship. Mandates were coming down from the state level hard and fast. More standardization. More rigid schedules. We adopted regimented programs with accompanying fidelity checks and the works. More consuming.

Less autonomy. Less freedom for teachers. Less creativity. Less thinking. Less creating.

Maybe it was because I didn’t agree with any of it. Maybe it was because I was pregnant and I really didn’t have the energy to be gangbusters about the straight and narrow path public education was taking. For whatever the reason, I decided to respect my teachers’ freedom and trust them as professionals. I was going to squeeze every ounce of wiggle room out of what I, the middle man, was expected to hand down to my teachers. Some went rogue and adjusted schedules or approaches. Others chose to stick to the plan. There was discourse and conflict and messiness and also some beautiful things that emerged during this time.

Cheating? Nah. Skirting the rules? Definitely.

There was something very instinctual about my decision not to wholeheartedly push the directives. I wasn’t trying to be defiant. I felt it was the right thing to do. The teachers needed me to. The kids needed me to.

I understand that not everyone has the authority to act in this way, or the desire to. Teachers are slaves to schedules and their supervisors and curriculum guides and standards and common assessments and often have to act in ways that defy their guts. Teaching shouldn’t be like that. Learning shouldn’t be like that. Can I ever go back to being a principal in a public ed system? I’m not sure. Not without a lot of autonomy and trust given to me from those above.

Dave shared that the reason we consider cheating to be cheating is because there is a defined set of answers or rules or structures in place by someone in “authority.” The teacher in the classroom, the superintendent, the state department of ed. We’ve all grown accustomed to this power structure and it’s become ingrained in the traditions of schooling.

When we decide to cheat, or skirt the rules, we have the opportunity to disrupt those power structures. For good. We can free ourselves from rigid thinking and one-size-fits-all and we can start imagining and creating in new ways.

There are are still teachers who still don’t allow kids to talk to one another during classwork. During “learning” exercises. They consider “talking to your neighbor” to be a form of cheating. “I don’t want to see your neighbor’s answer on your paper. I want to see your answer.”

What if the answer created by the student and his neighbor is far superior to the one that the individual could conjure on his own? And what if those partners then joined heads with the students across the room? (Yes, I’m suggesting that, perhaps, the kids should get out of their seats.)

Community emerges. Co-creation of content, of knowledge, and shared experiences.

It’s hard to relinquish control. It’s okay to want consistency and quality for all kids. That can happen while respecting the professional and the child. While respecting freedoms and passions and interests and needs and strengths.

It seems to me that for something considered to be so highly disrespectful, cheating as learning requires a great deal of respect for the teacher and student.

More Homework Meme

As if I don’t have enough trouble meeting writing deadlines or blogging consistently (which doesn’t stop me from setting up additional writing spaces, mind you) my favoritest middle school teacher in the world, Bill Ferriter, has tagged me in a very fun blogging challenge.

When I speak with teachers and administrators about the use of social media for professional learning, I always, as so many of you do, stress the importance of building relationships with those in your personal learning network. These relationships deepen the value of the connection and therefore strengthen the learning experience. These relationships can’t be built without a smidgen of personal transparency – who we are, what we feel, who we love, what we do outside of the classroom or school setting.

To begin, here are 11 random facts about me.

1. I am a paper crafter. I have been scrapbooking since 2003. Many people have a preconceived notion of what it means to “scrapbook” and they picture frumpy, middle-aged moms who sit around in their sweats and glue photos to paper. Paper crafting is actually the reason I first started using social media to connect with other people in communities of common interests. It was mind-blowing to me how I could have conversations, share my work, and develop friendships with other crafters who were located all over the country. My current fave for both product and community is Studio Calico. Check it out, it’s an inspiring place!

2. I cannot resist a milkshake. I seriously may have consumed 100 milkshakes while I was pregnant.

3. I am the oldest of five children. My youngest sister was born when I was 17 years old.

4. I did not fly in an airplane until my early twenties. My very first flight was flown by my now-husband, in a Cessna 152.

5. I didn’t see the ocean until I was in the fifth grade. We took a family vacation to LBI.

6. My family often converses entirely in memorized movie lines.

7. I have visited a handful of European countries and cities. London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, and Athens are among the highlights. We can’t wait to take our son to Europe!

8. I met President Bill Clinton in 1995, when I was a senior in high school. He was scheduled to speak at Kutztown University, which is located in my hometown. 98% of my classmates ditched school that day and waited outside the university auditorium and/or procured tickets to hear him speak. My mom said I had to go to school, which bummed me out. In government class that afternoon- there were maybe 5 or 6 of us in attendance – my teacher, Mr. Barry Adams (who is now retired and a tour guide of the Gettysburg battlefields), received a tip from a contact that President Clinton would be making a stop at a local craft/food store on the way out of town. We sprung into action. I made this huge sign on butcher paper which read President Clinton – Middle Class American – Talk to Me! And it had a cut out circle in the middle, and the plan was I’d stick my head through the opening while my classmates held the sign so that when they drove by, he’d be enticed o stop. What do you know? It worked! He came over to greet us. He said, “Who’s this middle class American?” and said hello and shook my hand. He also signed our banner, and the White House photographed us and sent us 5 official copies of the photo in the mail. The enclosure also said the photo was displayed in the White House! I’ve never been to the White House to confirm or deny this. Was a very special day. (And, it proves you should never ditch school.) 🙂

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9. I played collegiate field hockey and was all-conference my senior year.  I played defense and scored exactly one time, in a double-overtime game where we won 1-0. My teammates rushed the field after I scored and it’s one of the fondest memories of my life. I still have the ball.

10. I have to hold back tears every time I look at my son. He is perfect.

11. I know every line to The Nightmare Before Christmas.

 

Bill has provided us with eleven thought-provoking questions to ponder and answer. Here we go…

1. Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip or House Blend Black?

This is silly. Coffee over tea any day.

2. If you were going to write a book, what would its title be?

One of the perks of my elementary principal’s gig was having freshly-baked (most of the time), cleverly decorated treats brought to my office to celebrate birthdays and holidays. This was one such treat:

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Thus the title of book, should I ever write it, will be There’s a Worm in My Cupcake. Todd Whitaker approves.

3. Rate graphic novels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing “useless” and 10 representing “simply amazing.”

When I taught sixth grade, we read amazing stories together. Holes and Red Fern and The View from Saturday. But there were still some students (boys, mostly) who were difficult to engage – they “hated reading.” Enter Avi’s City of Light, City of Dark. While I’m not going to say that every boy was turned onto reading because of that book, I know it was an “a-ha” moment for a lot of kids, to help them learn more about the different types of literature available and to learn to love to read. I don’t particularly love graphic novels myself (although I read Johnny Bunko in one sitting), but I think they’re a solid 8.

4. What member of your digital network has had the greatest impact on your professional growth?

Pass.

5. How do you feel about the holidays?

I love the holidays, but I hate how much money I spend trying to find the perfect gift for people, when a) I’m really terrible about finding good gifts and b) spending time with family is the best gift of all. I love decorating and cookie baking! And eating. And holiday cocktails. And wrapping gifts. And Christmas television shows. And Christmas music.

6. Rate the following movies in order from best to worst:  Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version).

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story (I’ve never seen A Christmas Story in its entirety!)

7. What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten?

Cole, my son.

8. If you had an extra $100 to give away to charity, who would you give it to?

Animal rescue, specifically a group that helps with greyhound rescues.

9. What are you the proudest of?

My efforts to be the best mother I can be.

10. What was the worst trouble that you ever got into as a child?

I’m not entirely sure. But I do remember falling asleep in my fifth grade class while my peers were each reciting The Gettysburg Address. While I didn’t get in “trouble,” my fifth grade teacher found a Peanuts comic strip about Charlie Brown falling asleep in class, and he taped it to my desk the next morning.

11. What was the last blog entry that you left a comment on?  What motivated you to leave a comment on that entry?

Earlier this week, Todd Hoffman shared a blog post about his first experience as a Twitter chat moderator. I have only moderated chats a few times, but I was prompted to comment because I wanted to share that scheduling my moderator questions in advance made the whole experience a lot easier and allowed me to more actively engage in the chat.

Here are the 11 bloggers I am tagging for the next round. You’re welcome. 🙂

1. Josh Stumpenhorst

2. Tony Sinanis

3. Kristina Peters

4. Jeff Delp

5. Tony Baldasaro

6. Joe Mazza

7. Andy Marcinek

8. Amanda Dykes

9. Michelle Baldwin

10. Katie Hellerman

11. Nick Provenzano

 

And here are my 11 questions for those bloggers:

1. Do you have a middle name? If so, what is it? Anything special about it?

2.  What color are your eyes?

3. Where would you go in a time travel machine? Would you stay?

4. Who is the person you most trust in the world?

5. What high school activities did you participate in?

6. If Twitter ceased to exist tomorrow, what would you most miss about it?

7. Seriously, what do you think of the Miley Cyrus song, Wrecking Ball?

8. Do you cook or bake? What is your specialty?

9. What is the first concert you ever went to? (Excluding school concerts)

10. Have you ever been “starstruck?” Explain.

11.  How far away from your birthplace do you live now?

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Professional development by you, for you.

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Let your ideas run wild.

In the past several weeks I’ve received a number of requests for the resources I used to host a Fed-Ex Day at our school. I thought it may be easiest to share them in one space here so others can access as needed.

Incidentally, I find it curious and humbling that folks are still inquiring about the day’s details. When I think back on that day, held in November 2010, it feels like an eternity ago. As the principal that year, I had a lot of autonomy in the way I designed and hosted professional development for my teachers.

And that, my friends, is the key to making something like this work. Building-level administrators have to be given the autonomy to plan, implement and facilitate learning for their teachers in a way that empowers their teachers as learners. Without that freedom, (unless it’s orchestrated by the folks at the top, and to be fair, in some places, it is), this type of day doesn’t happen. In the years that followed, our district moved towards a standardized-approach for inservice days. Each elementary building follows a common professional development schedule built around district initiatives. While certainly this protocol serves to help the three buildings become more aligned in their efforts and open the lines of communication among teachers and grade levels, it doesn’t exactly support initiatives that address the unique needs of a building (or a particular set of teachers, like the specialists). And we all know that every school and the teachers within have a special culture, learning needs, and personalities. Don’t unique individuals deserve individualized professional development?

The reason I find the requests for my resources curious is that I didn’t do anything mind-blowing or creative. I simply reflected upon the ideas shared by Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, and brought the day known as a Fed-Ex day to our little school.  Aside from an hour or so of preparation in terms of sharing background materials with my staff, I didn’t do much of anything. (Although in writing this post, I was reminded of Obvious to You, Amazing to Others. It’s a quick view and a great reminder of why we need to share!)

Let me also share that Chris Wejr began incorporating FedEx preps into his school in October of that year, and his work should be used as a reference as well! Chris is an invaluable resource when it comes to motivation and the work we do with teachers and students. More from Chris here.

I blogged about our day, and shared it. And Dan Pink retweeted the blog post.

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We engaged in an email conversation, which was pretty exciting for me, and I was so happy to share my staff’s successes with him as well as educators who might find the day as inspiring as we did. And I called Chris to talk about it. 🙂

Yes, I know Dan Pink isn’t an educator. I get it. There are plenty of skeptics out there when it comes to incorporating the ideas shared by Pink in Drive with the work we do in education. I don’t see any fault in finding inspiration from those outside of education and adapting the ideas to make them work for you, your teachers, and your students. The key is that you have identified your needs, you provide autonomy to your learners,  you support their learning along the way, and you assess the effectiveness of your efforts. The FedEx day certainly isn’t going to look the same in the school as it does in the business world. And why should it? We’re different beasts. Own it. Make it yours.

Here are the resources I shared with others. Please feel free to use/adapt to meet your needs:

  • On our school wiki I posted the resources introducing Drive and the background activities like What’s Your Sentence? and the RSA Animate video featuring Pink’s work on motivation that I asked teachers to review before attending our session. It also includes the Google form that teachers used to “deliver” their content/ideas at the conclusion of the day.
  • Here are our sentences. This, as other administrators have found, is one of the most inspiring parts of the day!
  • Here’s my original reflective post, Inspiration Delivers, on my former blog space and here it is on this space.
  • Here’s another reflective post sharing our Edcamp-style PD day later in the year.
  • And here’s a Google doc of resources sharing ideas for “innovative” professional development.

It is now three full years after our Fed-Ex day was held. Innovation Days and Genius Hours and 20% time and  EdCamp-model professional development days -and learning sessions for students- are being designed and shared with the educational community on a daily basis. Students and teachers are sharing how much they appreciate the freedom to learn in ways that best support their needs, and how excited they are to explore topics about which they are passionate.

always get this question when presenting these ideas to other administrators: “But what about the teachers who abuse this freedom? Who sit alone in their rooms and grade papers or work on things that don’t help them develop professionally?”

Then you deal with those folks on an individual basis. You don’t punish the 98% of teachers who want to do the right thing because of the 2% of knuckleheads who can’t seem to handle the autonomy. HT: Tom Murray

I’d encourage anyone who plans professional development to always keep the learners in mind. It doesn’t matter what you call it. “Inservice Day” will do. Use technology, or don’t. But respect your learners and their time.

Shameless plug: I’ll be presenting some ideas about professional development at FETC in January. My session is on Friday, Jan. 31 from 10-11 AM. Hope to see you there!

 

Photo Credit: billy verdin via Compfight cc

Tell me about it.

medium_3784049371How do you approach the process of investigating a new product, app, program, instructional strategy, device, software, hardware, curriculum, [insert new initiative here]?

From a purchasing standpoint, price point is important, I get it. But most affordable does not translate into most effective for kids, teachers, and learning.

What about purpose? What about total cost of ownership? What about value added? What about ease of use? What about technical support?

In my new role, I’m able to provide insight into the myriad of decisions that go into educational technology planning, purchasing, roll-out, professional development, and support processes.

Is my voice always heard? The voices of the teachers and principals? No. We still have to work to do strengthening the lines of technology + education communications. That will only come with the establishment of trust and mutual respect over time.

But when I’m considering a new app, a new program, a new strategy, what I really want to do, more than research the product online, more than listen to a sales pitch, more than look at the financial bottom line, is talk to someone. 

Oh, you’re using that product? Tell me about it.

How do you like it? How does it work? What are the glitches? How does it support student learning? How is it supported? What can you tell me that a vendor can’t tell me?

I use phone calls. I use email. I ask our blossoming Google+ instructional tech community. I inquire during our monthly IU13 tech integrators meetings. I tweet about it.

Being connected means that I have access to educators with experience, some very similar to my own, and some very different from mine. I have access to smart people who have implemented, assessed, questioned, purchased, developed, and shared their ideas with me.

I am lucky.

From an educational perspective, the input and voice of teachers, students, coaches and principals MUST be sought with every technology purchase consideration.

And helping to guide our research are the voices of educators from around the world who share their ideas and experiences with others.

Does your school/district/division have a plan for including educational voices in the technology integration decision-making process? I’d love to hear about your framework and strategies to ensure a) educational voices are heard and b) the results of those decisions are evaluated and assessed to ensure we’re always doing what’s best for kids.

P.S. I know “education” and “technology” should be synonymous. I get it. Using technology meaningfully should just be part of what we do. Right now, we and many other schools are still working to build that bridge, so…. tell me about your successes so we can learn from you.

photo credit: MyDigitalSLR via photopin cc

Connect to win.

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A little birdie told me it’s Connected Educator Month. If you’re reading this, and if you’re new to “connecting,” you might be curious about a day in the life of a “connected” educator. About how we find the time. About the tools we use to connect. About the time we spend communicating with others. About how we manage to do anything other than tweet, blog, and Hangout. You may be apprehensive about connecting and sharing digitally.

Let me start this post by saying I truly believe there’s no right or wrong way to connect. Many folks are skilled collaborators within their local schools and districts. That’s important. One of our teachers started a writing club this year to discuss and explore best practices with teachers in our elementary schools. They meet face-to-face each month.

Those teachers are connected educators.

I’m going to make an appearance at one of their sessions and discuss blogging, its benefits, and how it can amplify the shared ideas of teachers and students alike. I’m going to push those locally connected educators to stretch a little further. Expand their reach. Encourage them to share their wisdom with others. But without the initial face-to-face connections this group has established, the opportunity to share about blogging would not have as easily presented itself.

Connected educators are vulnerable. They make their learning transparent and therefore are open to critique and criticism. They ask questions, they challenge assumptions, they create things and ideas, they get messy, they remix, and they support one another and their kids. It’s hard to put yourself out there. The good news is, you’re not alone.

A connected educator is never alone!

In our school district, have teachers who tweet. We have far fewer administrators who tweet. We have one former administrator who tweets a lot. We have kids who blog, parents who comment on blogs, schools that post news to blogs, and a superintendent who’s looking to expand our district’s use of social media to share the wonderful experiences and learning of our students and school community.

Fact: You can be a connected educator without using Twitter and without reading or writing a blog.

But the tools are available. Many are free. Most are easy to use. They bring ideas your way. They help you forge relationships with exceptional educators. They help you add nodes to your networks.

And they will broaden the scope of your influence.

On a typical day, I wake up early. After some quick mommy math, I calculate I’ll have approximately one hour of uninterrupted time before waking-up-baby needs snuggling.

What’s a connected educator to do?

Coffee. iPhone alerts. Facebook friends, tweets, and emails. Respond to a teacher’s concern about not being able to print a document. Mobile connectivity is key for me.

Twitter. Use Tweetdeck to check the #cpchat stream for articles and posts I can pin to the Connected Leadership board.

Feedly. Take the time to do something I don’t do enough: comment on a blog post. This one from Pernille Ripp, questioning, Where are all the connected female educators? 

LOL reading John Spencer’s post, How many teachers  does it take to change a lightbulb? Share to Facebook, because sometimes my teacher friends are really down on themselves about the state of our profession and they need a good chuckle.

More Feedly. This looks interesting. Save to Pocket. Share out later after reading.

Collaborate with a district and county colleague via Twitter, devise a new hashtag to organize what we share with our tech integrators group.

Baby awake. Family time. Get ready for work.

Long commute. Sirius XM, talk radio, and time with my thoughts.

Help teachers get set up using a math website with students, reference the tutorials on our Elementary Instructional Technology blog. Discuss administrivia with a colleague. Set up a new Twitter account for the district. Check out the latest being shared in our Instructional Technology Integrators and Coaches Google+ community and approve membership requests. Jump into a CEM event led by Scott McLeod for a few minutes. Work with third graders and help them sign into Google Apps for the first time.  Collaborate on a document together. Best practices in design. Google presentations. Communication with a connected colleague, Rachel (whom I met through our Ed Leadership in the Digital Age eCourse through PLP) about a Skype-in session later in the week. Kidblog tasks. Problem solving. Brainstorming. Comment on student work shared with me through GAFE. Create a tutorial to help out a teacher. Eat food. Check out the tweets being shared from #masscue2013. Think about the app a neighboring district created and how useful it is and how we want one. Contact the district for more info. Read the school app resources Eric Sheninger shared with me yesterday via Twitter. Share cyberbullying lesson resources from iSafe and Common Sense Media with district guidance counselors. Finalize elementary technology curriculum drafts. Start working on the new district Facebook page. Consult Diigo for my bookmarks on digital storytelling to share with a teacher looking for more information. Smile at as many kids as possible.

Long commute home.

Family time.

Evening now, baby asleep, finishing this blog post. Going to try to engage with #cpchat tonight which has been a source of inspiration throughout #ce13.

I could read some more feeds. I could tweet. I could check work email. I could pin tasty-looking recipes, get lost in a bunch of nonsensical Facebook posts.  I could install Mavericks.

Instead, I think I’ll play Dots. It’s pretty addicting. And it’s very simple.

Connect the dots.

Stronger, wiser, more numerous connections yield better outcomes.

Connect to win.

A bit about blogging.

Photo by Kathy Cassidy

Photo by Kathy Cassidy

 

I’ve been a blogger since 2009, but I’ve been a writer for always.

When I was principal, I wanted our students to have safe spaces where they could share their writing with the world and learn to proficiently use digital tools to make their voices heard. I wanted for them to be able to share their ideas with families and friends. I wanted others to be able to comment on the creativity and ideas expressed. I wanted our kids to connect globally with other classrooms and students. I wanted them to refine and enhance the ways in which they communicate with others.

I wanted.

Why?

Because I think it matters. Communication matters.

In my years as principal we introduced blogging to classrooms of students, beginning first with teachers who were eager to embrace blogging as a venue through which students could communicate their ideas and share their learning. Many teachers found natural uses of blogging in a variety of subject areas, from free writes to summarizing key learning to creative storytelling.

We used Kidblog in the beginning, and we still do. One of my first tasks in my new role as elementary tech integrator was to create Kidblog spaces for all students and teachers grades 2-6, district-wide. One of the things I disliked about how we used Kidblog in past years is that we had to “start fresh” with a new class each year, and our teachers were managing all of their own accounts. Now I have the ability to manage all of the accounts and simply move students into their new class next school year, which will maintain the work and writing they’ve done this year in the same space.

I have some continued wishes for blogging in our schools:

We need to “move beyond pockets of excellence in blogging“. I’d like to see more kids start blogging, and I’d like to support their teachers through this process. The spaces are set up, but there’s no mandate in place that says students must blog. How will that happen? With support, guidance, modeling, showcasing the great work that’s already being done, and time. And a little nagging 🙂 As Silvia Tolisano states in her post about pockets of blogging excellence, we can see the positive effects of blogging in a classroom where students are blogging, but

What we CAN’T do with pockets of excellence is to track and identify LONG TERM gains in blogging as a LEARNING PLATFORM.

Check out Tolisano’s blogging framework to support the practice in the elementary grades.

I’d like to see our use of Kidblog morph into digital student portfolios, spaces for students to showcase and share their work (and not just the “finished product,” but allow glimpses into the learning process as it unfolds).

I’d love for more of our teachers and administrators to embrace blogging, not just as a form of home-school communication (although that’s a great start), but to creatively express themselves and share their ideas with families and other educators. These are the blogging resources I share with staff via our elem. tech blog.

We need to better involve parents and families. When we first started blogging, my genius grade 2 team developed and hosted a Family Blog Night, where they invited parents and students to learn more about blogging, Kidblog, and commenting. After the teachers shared their info, parents and students logged into the student accounts for the first time to compose the first blog post together! Read more about this event here.

I’m eager to work with more classrooms to help students learn about quality commenting and engaging in respectful discourse. I rarely, if ever, read the comments sections of online news sites, which more often than not are riddled with vulgarity, ignorance, a wealth of conventional errors, and disrespect. I seriously want our students to understand that they are capable of communicating their unique ideas in ways that do not disrespect others or cause harm.

I want students to understand that blogging is about writing and reading. I want to connect them with great blogs to read, help them learn how to organize feeds, support their efforts to make sense of the information they find online, and help them discover how to apply it to their own learning. I’ll continue using the #comments4kids community to help student voices shine.

Do I think all students will love blogging? No. Do I think they need to be skilled communicators? Yes. So I’m not in favor of mandating x number of posts are required x number of days per week, or dictating every type of post we ask kids to write. Student ownership and product/process choice is still key. But while a post like this from one of our fifth graders breaks my heart just a little, I’m glad that this quiet young man once again has a medium through which he can share with the world:

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This image from Stephen Davis came through my Instagram feed and its caption really struck a chord with me:

We write to show the world we think.

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Image by Stephen Davis

 

When our kids write, they think. If they blog and publish and share, they think aloud and think visibly.

How are you supporting your students in the quest to help them become authentic writers and visible thinkers?

Technology tidbits.

3502028224_d19df4870e“So, how do you like your new job?”

In the two weeks since I’ve been “officially” back to work, I have been asked that question over a dozen times by colleagues. Teachers, principals, central office staff, parents.

Well, truth be told. I kind of love it.

The first week of the school year was dizzying. In a good way. I’ve already learned some lessons about the role of the instructional coach and the ways in which we use technology to support learning. Here are a few tidbits that have been on my mind.

1. The more devices the merrier? Not quite.  Our grades 4-6 are 1:1 this year and our primary students have access to a ton of devices. Lucky us! However, with more devices come more headaches. Java incompatibility/updates/whatever. Desktop shortcuts pointing to the wrong URL for a site-based program. Upgrades to a new early learning system caused teachers to be unsure how to manage it. Newly enrolled students without access to key accounts. Entire labs freezing up when attempting to get online (via Internet Explorer, so.) These things will happen, and do happen, in schools everywhere. My takeaway here is that our technicians look like they have been run over by a bus during the last few weeks of summer and the first few weeks of school. If you’re going to increase the number of devices and services on your campus, you’d better be prepared to increase the amount of support personnel. Otherwise, you will frustrate the teachers, students, and administrators who expect to work with functioning devices and services.

2.  Email is the devil. In my opinion, it’s just not a great way to communicate. Threaded email is even worse. I sent a few mass emails during the first two weeks of school to communicate some issues common to all three schools, and it was like my emails self-destructed a second after they were opened by recipients. The administrators and I continued to get a multitude of emails asking questions that were answered in my proactive attempts at communication. I continue to send my teachers to our elementary instructional tech blog (a work in progress), in the hopes it will serve as the central hub for our teaching and learning efforts this year, thus eliminating the need for 50 emails about how so-and-so can’t access what’s-it-called. And let’s just all take a moment to remember that writing something in all-caps and/or boldface doesn’t make me pay more attention to your message. It hurts my ears. And feelings.

3. There’s probably a reason why your tech department is asking you to submit a work order. When I was a building principal, and I had a tech issue, I emailed the tech supervisor. I didn’t stop to consider that there were probably 100 other people doing that as well. (See #2.) I did it because I wanted an immediate response and action to be taken. I know everyone who has a tech issue feels that exact same way. This year I’m in a role where I’m not a member of the technology department, but I can help teachers with technical issues that arise. While my instinct is still to email technicians my questions so I can quickly get an answer in order to most efficiently help staff, I’ve come to realize that it’s important for us to submit formal work orders. The help desk system is designed to track, monitor, and assign work tasks to technicians. If we skip around that step, the system begins to break down. So as much as it’s a pain to log onto yet another portal to access yet another site and fill out yet another form, it’s necessary. Would I rather have access to the technicians on Google chat 100% of the workday? Yes.

4. Plan, plan, plan.  Then, backup plan. Due to an issue on Pearson’s end (so we’ve been told- we’re still waiting for our Successnet issues to be remedied -anyone from Pearson technical support reading this?), our teacher and student access to the online literacy program portal is not yet up and running. Heading into our third week of school, teachers had already planned to access the portal and use a number of the resources there. Now unavailable, teachers have to resort to plan B. Perfectionists all, it’s difficult to plan for the use of technology, have it fail you, and then buck up and try again when things have been remedied. You lose a little faith each time that happens.

5. Those who take initiative reap rewards. Since the first day of school, I’ve worked in the classrooms of about ten different teachers across the district. Some eagerly invited me in to teach a lesson about quality blog commenting and others asked for modeling the use of Google docs and helping their kids get acclimated to the tools. They asked for my help without hesitation, and I could tell they spent a lot of time over the summer or at the start of the year prepping their students and preparing themselves to include technology in the daily business of the classroom. They were brave in the face of challenges and accepted what they did not know. These teachers will serve as the leaders for their colleagues moving forward and will no doubt allow their students to make the most out of their learning experiences supported by tech. I’ve had initial conversations with teachers who want to integrate technology in more meaningful ways this year, but they feel absolutely swamped at this point. My role will be to support them where they are, all the while gently nudging…

6. Relationships rule. I still haven’t met face-to-face all of the new teachers I’ll be working with this year, but when I’m in the buildings I try to say hello and as unobtrusively as possible, let people know I’m here for them!

7. There is still a lot of fear. It must be difficult to relinquish control. We have a classroom management/monitoring program to assist in the computer labs and the classrooms with laptop carts. I think for some teachers, the most exciting aspect of this is that they can blank the students’ screens and/or “control” what they’re doing at certain times to ensure they’re giving their fullest attention where it is due. Where is the attention due? Shouldn’t our attention be given to them? Here’s an idea. Plan well and engage your kids. Deal individually with the students who having difficulty using the technology to support their learning. Don’t focus on “locking down” an entire class as an attempt to have its undivided attention. I appreciate that we have tools to help monitor students’ use in order to keep them safe. I just don’t think we need to be all Big Brother-y about it.

8. Kids are the best. Kids are so great. I really missed my students. It’s been so fantastic seeing their faces. They are so much taller than they were when I went out on leave! I am also enjoying meeting some new kiddos at the other two schools where I now work. I love watching kids in the computer labs. Did you ever watch a kindergarten student try to work a mouse? It’s clear who has a mouse on their computer at home, and who uses Mom’s iPad/iPhone/tablet/trackpad/swipey device. Did you ever watch a six-year-old attempt to login to a computer with some ridiculous username like Gard3485 and an even more ludicrous password of GSKDG7485? Did you ever hear kids laugh out loud or sing along to a game while they’re wearing their headphones, oblivious to what’s going on around them? Adorbs.

9. I don’t miss administrative meetings.

10. I have a lot to learn. There’s so much I want to learn this year. I’m excited about our county technology integrators meeting coming up next week, held monthly throughout the year. (Thanks for organizing, Ken!) I really want to dive into some of the coaching academy courses from ISTE.  I continue reading some great posts and conversations in the instructional technology integrators/coaches Google+ community. I’ll keep tweeting and perusing chats and reading blogs. Hopefully I’ll get to some conferences like Edscape and Educon to connect with some smart folks. I started some lessons in Codecademy. I have a pile of books to read and blog about.

What have you learned with the start of your new school year? 

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Someone needs you to lead.

leadershipday2013When I resigned from the principalship this spring following a maternity leave, many emotions emerged.

The most prevalent was a sense of pure relief.

Done.

Done with administrivia. Done with mandates. Done with headaches and up-all-night-anxieties. Done with new initiatives and state evaluation systems and paperwork and meetings.

I’d miss the interactions with students, of course. But the rest?

I haven’t once wished I was back in the principal’s chair since I left.

This post is for Scott McLeod’s Leadership Day 2013 event. Its initial title? Why I’m glad I’m not the leader anymore. I thought perhaps that might not fit with the day’s intent, and it certainly wouldn’t get my post shared with a #savmp hashtag anytime soon.

But then I began to reflect on my new role as instructional technology coach, and the work I’ve done with teachers over the summer thus far.

The realization sunk in: I am still a leader. A leader in new ways, in a different form. In a supportive leadership role, where I’m not evaluating anyone at the end of the day, but instead providing guidance and instructional leadership. (And yes, I know that’s a role of the principal as well. Just one of many.) I’m helping teachers find new and meaningful ways to integrate technology in teaching and learning. I’m meeting the needs of individuals, grade level teams, and schools. I still have the opportunity to work with the administrative team I admire so much, and I get to collaborate with so many more teachers and students across the district.

After a day of coaching and facilitating professional development sessions, I feel happy. I feel energized. A million ideas race through my head, and I want to keep busy and plan, plan, plan.

I can tell by the genuine enthusiasm and efforts of the teachers I’m working with, along with feedback I’ve received, that they’re appreciative of my work in this new role. They need me to lead. This is a new position, and I’m providing a resource that was formerly unavailable to the elementary staff.

No matter what your role: administrator, teacher, coach, paraprofessional, student… someone needs you to lead. You might not hold a formal leadership position or assume a title. Your leadership efforts might go unnoticed to those you don’t serve, but that doesn’t matter. Someone needs you to lead. You know things others don’t, and your experiences are unique and will be valued by others.

Leadership isn’t about rank, position, or power. It’s about sharing. It’s about having the confidence and willingness to serve. Lead your teaching colleagues in an exploration of a new instructional strategy. Lead a student in finding his passion. Lead your department in strengthening their communication methods. Lead a global Twitter conversation. Lead something, somewhere, somehow.

Someone needs you to lead.

 

Teaching is learning!

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When you’re an administrator, you’re forced to take a step back from the majesty that is teaching and those daily, engaging interactions with students. Yes, some admin teach a course or class or small reading group or two, but, let’s face it- it’s not the same.

Last week I had the privilege of teaching my first (and hopefully not my last) educational leadership graduate course for Cabrini College. #edg646 (yes, we have a hashtag now), Technology & Communications for Administrators. I wondered about my students and their backgrounds. How long had they been teaching? Why were they pursuing a principal’s certification and a career in administration?  Would they engage in our discussions? Would I overwhelm them with too much technology, too fast, in our compacted 5-day week together (5-7 hours per day!)

Would I lose my mind being away from baby for those long hours, five days in a row?! (I almost did.)

I can say, without a doubt, that my students- and the whole experience- far exceeded my expectations about how the week would go. On our first night together I encouraged them to approach our course with an “open mind.” That I would be sharing ideas, tools, strategies, and skill sets that may seem “out there,” or undoable in this time of highly standardized education.

Before the course began I read some of the other syllabi that adjunct instructors were using with this course. There was no talk of connected learning and leading.

My approach would be different.

I asked my students to Be Curious. Learn. Connect. Share. Reflect.

Our first night together we participated as a class in #edtechchat. I was the guest moderator. In order to do so, I worked at the last minute with the hosting school’s IT director, school principal, neighboring district IT director, and a school board member (it helps to know people) to have Twitter unblocked.

It was that night I realized that it doesn’t matter if you have one device or five hundred available to you and the students. BYOD, BYOT, 1:1, whatever, who cares, if you can’t connect, your learning is limited.

Access matters.

#edtechchat moves quickly. A few watched the conversations unfold using Twubs or Tweetdeck. I was almost certain they’d develop a distaste for Twitter, because I did little in terms of introducing the tool to them. We just jumped right in. It was a little scary. But also a tad bit exhilarating.

They embraced it! They also developed as reflective writers. I included a handful of blogging assignments in the week’s to-dos. Some were initially hesitant to share, but when I asked if anyone objected to me tweeting out their posts, everyone said they were okay with it. They located other educators’ blogs, commented, reflected, and engaged one another in discussion. I’d love for you to read their work and comment if you get the chance. I hope they continue using their blogs to reflect upon their work moving forward. Many have shared that they’re eager to do so. Here they are on Feedly. And here are the individual links:

Chris
Deana
Stephanie
Mike
Josh
Jordan
Ron
Sue

Their final projects made me smile. I was purposely ambiguous in designing the task:

Your project for this course is to share what you have learned about yourself as a leader and the role technology will play in your educational leadership endeavors, as well as how you will continue to explore and learn moving forward in this area.

The students’ creativity really shone through with their submissions. They spoke passionately about what they learned, and most utilized new tools in their publication process. I was almost moved to tears when reading their final course reflections in their last required blog post. I also was humbled to read the kind feedback shared on the course evaluation form I asked them to complete. I was so proud that they embraced the ideals of connected leadership and learning!

I learned a lot last week, and I know I can do better the next time around. I hosted the resources and course outline on a wiki here, if you’re interested in viewing what we discussed. I’m so proud of everything my students accomplished.

Without my network, this course would have been far less meaningful. I appreciate the feedback I received from Jon Becker when I reached out and told him I was teaching this course, and did he have any advice? My students found the experiences shared by our guest speakers, Tom Murray and Joe Mazza, to be a highlight of our week together. I can’t even name all of the blogs, Twitter handles, articles, videos, images, books and other resources shared with my class that I amassed via my interactions with my wonderful PLN. To you I am grateful.

I think, by the end of the week, my students understood the importance of networking as a means by which we develop the relationships that can make our work in schools so powerful.

So, yes. I was “instructor”. I was “facilitator”. I used technology to streamline the process of communicating and publishing information and resources for my class. I served as a “guide on the side.”

But I was also the teacher. And I loved every minute of it.

 

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Community.

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Years ago, when I heard the word community, I thought of my childhood home and the town in which we lived, a rural town where I was free to walk to the playground, the park, the pool, and my friends’ houses. Community made me think of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street.

Now I know community to be so much more.

Even our social studies curriculum today asks our kindergartners, How do people in a community cooperate? and discussions focus around jobs and services and firefighters and post mail deliverers and teachers and police officers and store clerks.

But now we know that community can extend far beyond the physical space. That relationships are forged, ideas exchanged, and services rendered without ever having to leave the comfort of our familiar spaces.

Something fun I’ve learned about virtual communities – they exist because we want them to exist. We create them. They emerge out of a need, out of shared passions. Members don’t have to share physical space in order for the community to thrive. These spaces just need our time and attention, and they’re strengthened by the members’ desires to come together for a shared purpose.

I’m embarking on a new role as technology integrator, and I know I need support. I created the Instructional Technology Integrators/Coaches community on Google+ because selfishly I was hoping there were others out there who would share their ideas and resources with me. Just yesterday after only a few months of existence, our community reached over 400 members. I’m so grateful to the teachers, administrators and coaches who have taken the time to post ideas, ask questions, ignite conversations, and share resources with the group. Please consider joining us if you have not done so already!

It’s just one of many communities I have embraced as part of my learning network. First there was Connected Principals. Then PLP. EdcampsETMOOC. The #edchat crew and now the #edtechchat team. There are countless ways for educators to become members of dynamic, nurturing, knowledgeable communities.

It takes time and a willingness to contribute. The payoffs are huge.

When do our students need to know this? Upon entering kindergarten, are children already cognizant of their role in the global community? Why should we limit their view of what a community is and can be by simply discussing jobs and services within the city limits? Certainly I want our young children to know how the fine folks who serve them support a community in need. But, there’s a whole wide world and a global community waiting for them. A textbook definition of community just doesn’t cut it anymore. There are a multitude of ways we can help children become contributing citizens in their global learning community. Through Global Read-Alouds and Skype in the Classroom and Kiva and quadblogging and the experiences shared in Connected Learners and sophisticated service projects and collaborative work as students progress through their school years.

And most importantly, by sharing with students that you, too, are a member of communities that extend beyond the school’s walls.

 

This post is dedicated to @Joe_Mazza who reminded me that I used to blog a lot more often.

 

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